Possessed, the band that started it all for death metal as 1985’s Seven Churches and 1986’s Beyond the Gates will remain untouchable. Unfortunately, the group’s career went to a tragic halt shortly after the release of 1987’s EP, Eyes of Horror. In 1989, frontman Jeff Becerra was a victim of a failed armed robbery attempt as he was shot twice, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. This led Becerra to go through a downward spiral, which took him years to bounce back. However, even during his darkest days, Becerra always knew he had unfinished business with Possessed. And finally, after years of rebuilding, over three decades later, the group’s third full-length effort Revelations of Oblivion, arrived on May 10th via Nuclear Blast Records (read our review here and order the album here). Life is full of challenges and people will experience a rough patch and feel hopeless. However, there are real-life stories such as Becerra’s that will inspire you to not give up on your passion. We were lucky to speak to the legend and listened to his story including him dissecting parts of the new album, the evolution of death metal, and more.
I wanted to start off about Revelations Of Oblivion. Now that it’s finally here, how does it feel to have a record out after thirty years?
It’s brilliant, of course. I have 33 years of wintering. It wasn’t so much wintering as trying to work towards getting this day, this actual day. It’s been a long time coming. It’s brilliant, it’s exciting. Also a bit terrifying. I’m just hoping that people dig it and that it does well and it makes people happy. My biggest thing is, with the meaning of Possessed, and finish my story that was cut off so abruptly. You can’t have it. Your band’s not going to last forever if you only have two fucking albums, you know what I mean? I’m just glad people waited. It’s exciting and thrilling and terrifying and it’s just been a long time coming. I want it to be out and just fucking let the chips fall where they may.
At one point within the last 30 years, did you ever have doubts that it would get done?
I have doubts everyday. But that’s just part of being a death metal artist because there’s no fucking guarantees. It’s not like pop where you get to be a millionaire. The only recompense we get is our music. What I think matters most to every real musician, death metal in particular, is that final product. What comes out of whack, what becomes, in essence, your immortality? What people remember you for when you’re dead and gone. And will they remember you? Because you’re only as famous as the last person who remembers who the fuck you are, you know? What it means to me is… Because I already know that money doesn’t make me happy. What makes me happy is what people think of the album and writing and creating great music.
Words from a true artist. What are some of the lyrical themes that you feel like sharing?
Just about flowers and ponies and daffodils. I’m just kidding.
That sounds very death metal.
It’s all about a little mouse. No, I’m just kidding. There’s so many topics. There’s so many subversive and hidden meanings, so much hate and love and fear and loneliness, desperation, and demons and angels and Bibles and devils. There’s a lot of shit in there. I started out with an over sweeping topic of what would happen… Because nowadays, Satan is fucking in. He’s prevalent. He’s so in vogue, in fashion right now. You can talk about the devil all day long and nobody trips, right? You talk about Christ, everyone looks at you like you’re a fucking freak. I said, wow, is this healthy? It used to be that good was good, God was good, devil was bad and they would never meet. It was good, it was all black and white. That was during the Satanic panic and the TMRC and the Bible Belt, Jerry Falwell and everything on TV, mega churches, mega bucks and Christ was king. What I noticed, I was watching this stupid show. I know I say this all the time but on Fox, it’s called Lucifer (now on Netflix). It’s a detective show where Lucifer comes up from Hell and helps us find a detective. As corny as that sounds, I was like, fuck, that would’ve never flown back in the early ’80s. Lucifer, right on mainstream TV. I started waxing kind of philosophical about that and I said, what would happen if it just continued this direction where there was all this religious hatred and pretty soon that Satan just became the new God and there was a complete absence and utter void of Christianity or Christ or anything like that.
Fictitiously, that would make a very good overall sweeping thing but then I started looking into how would it manifest itself on ears, right? I started noticing a lot of correlations and I think by the end of this album, I came to the conclusion of Satan is not only real but he’s walking to and fro and you can see that in everyday… I mean, world politics and everything like that. Everything’s kind of in parables. I don’t speak frankly about my politics or anything like that, but I can see a lot of devilish behavior going on and kind of within the church as well as humanity from priests to a normal person. The antichrist is going to… Of course, I bend and twist it. I talk about several different topics within. The world with an absence of a God kind of Revelations of Oblivion. I have several sub-topics of maybe chapters, verses. I also kind of try writing parables where people can manifest or interpret the lyrics. It might mean something different to everybody who reads it as well as spin some double entendres and hidden meanings and twists of words and wordplay in there. Try to make it fun and it could mean anything depending on what you want. It could be something very deep or it could be something that’s just death metal.
And of course, “Shadowcult,” you got one half of 1% that are the puppet masters of the world, that uber, elite rich people that really control the fate of the universe and steer and direct politics and all that stuff. They actually meet every year and wear robes and a cult of this orgy of sex and alcohol and fucking and just basically deciding what to do with all their money and wealth and control things. That’s kind of what “Shadowcult” is about. I could go in… There’s so many different topics. It would take a long time to go into, but I think people will figure it out and I mean, hopefully, I do go song by song. They all mean something different from “Demon”, I just woke up out of a nightmare which I call my glorious nightmares.
Because I love them. I have a lot of demons and I have wicked dreams and I’ll wake up and just jot it down. Dreams about worshiping a powerful demon and basically just praising fucking demons and Satan and something very simple and I think elegant, nice, and kind of cool. Demon or rituals, just a straight rituals, the seven arcane’s of hell and obscure cults and demon summoning rituals and everything from methods of madness is in there.
It is crazy how messed up the world is and how there’s secret cults out there, I guess the rich get bored with their money, and there is evil lurking within reality that’s more so than just a fairytale or anything mythology related.
Oh yeah. Almost at one point, I completely convinced myself that fate is real and the antichrist is on the Earth.
Paranoia is a real thing with what’s happening these days. Anything is possible.
Is the world ready for a world without any guidance whatsoever? There’s these fucking clips going around about the Mexican drug cartels and this one clip in particular was very disturbing where they were stabbing this poor woman and then another one where they dragged this motherfucker out, I don’t know what he did, I guess he snitched on the cartel or said too much but they dragged him naked into the fucking, the middle of a Mexican pueblo out there. Naked with as chain around his neck and they fucking cut one of his arms off and beat him in the face and hit him with his own arm and they cut his other arm off and then the way that this motherfucker was chopping this guy, he couldn’t get through the kneecap. He was trying to cut his legs off, so without even thinking about it, just like slaughtering an animal or something. He takes the butt of the knife and he breaks his knee cap so he can cut through that cartilage. It’s like he did it a million times or a hundred times before.
He cut both of his legs off at the knees and both his arms off at the shoulders. This dude was just laying there and everybody in the square was laughing hysterically at him like, “Ah, you got yours, motherfucker.” I was like, “Wow, are we all like that? Is that what we are at our base core without any nature or nurture?” I know so many motherfuckers don’t have the self control to govern themselves. I mean, there needs to be something. I’m not saying it needs to be religion or whatever, but there’s a lot of people, there’s a lot of motherfuckers out there that don’t have good moms and dads or family backing and all they do is they fall back on religion or whatever, right? You start taking away specific safety nets and you’ve got to wonder what’s going to fill in that void. Right now, people are just staring at their fucking cell phones all day. Since they made that law, especially in the United States where news no longer has to be true, it’s just for entertainment purposes only. It used to be that this gave a point and counterpoint, right? It used to be that the truth was somewhere in the middle. Now, I see a lot of what you see on the news is it steers you to be this or that, but it’s all directed, right?
I know that our government spends millions of dollars on think tanks, on divisionary policies where they get us all fighting so they can do whatever the fuck they want. They get us fighting about stupid shit like race or I’m Democrat, I’m Republican, and they put on these push button topics and they get us all arguing about stupid shit while they do whatever they want, right? I know this because I don’t have a cell phone. The more I look at it, the more I think of it as technology is the new Lucifer in many ways. Instead of the mark of the beast on the left hand or wrist, people have a fucking microchip in their left hand on their cell phone 24/7. That kind of just directs people and puppeteers and steers. People are so fucking blind. They’re just so self absorbed that they don’t recognize they’re getting played.
It’s also the power of social media where people can voice their opinion whether it’s true or false. Depending on the following, people will believe in just about anything. It’s crazy what’s happening.
People just want to believe in themselves. They want to know what to buy, what kind of fucking shoes to wear. Just stupid little shit. It’s terrible, man.
I know, it’s terrible.
It’s terrible. I don’t want to have to worry about my kids and their futures, but I don’t know. I miss the good old days when Satan was scary, you know? Because at least people had some sort of foundation. Maybe I shouldn’t say that because it doesn’t make me sound satanic and cool, but who cares?
You are well respected in this scene, you can say anything. I wanted to ask, many of us fall into a dark period due to difficult challenges, that’s even more difficult to break a dark habit. From your experience, how did you bounce back?
That’s exactly what I did. I bounced back, I fell down hard, and got tired of falling down so I picked myself up and fucking did what I needed to do. I think that everybody does that. I don’t think it’s unique to me. I think that everybody has their highs and lows. You don’t have to be shot twice or in a wheelchair to have some fucked up times. I know rich people that are suicidal because they have depression. I guess because their millions of dollars fucking weighs on them. Everybody has their lows and everybody has their highs. I think they’re all valid. I think it just kind of says something about us for humanity that we’re fucking obscenely positive in the face of adversity and you either get busy living or you get busy dying, ya know?
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Personally, I try to bring out awareness to mental health and try to stop people from harming themselves. I wanted to ask you, despite all the challenges life has given you, what made you never give up on Possessed?
I would say that the people… I got literally thousands of letters and correspondence asking me, begging me to come back and that was my light at the end of the tunnel and also my love for music and my family, my friends. The two friends that stuck with me that were hardcore. My music and my love for art and the necessity. I’m that guy that kind of feels like they’d be terrible without a band. I needed to get my band back and make music. I like to make people happy and rock out to my music. That’s big to me. Yeah, I think the band and my friends and family, they all kind of saved me.
Since Possessed are known as the pioneers of death metal, how do you think the genre has changed over the years?
Well, I mean, before it was a very narrow genre. It was just Possessed in the beginning. That was a lot of pressure because I wanted death metal to be recognized as a real… I don’t mean a revolution but a struggle especially magazines, they would call it thrash, and they would not use the term death metal on purpose. With death and necrophagy and all the bands that came after from Possessed to Krisiun, Obituary, Morbid Angel, I’m saying it out of order, all the bands from technical death metal to folk death metal. The genre, I would honestly say it’s one of the most exciting genres in music today if not the most exciting because the leaps and bounds and extraordinary colorfulness that have been added to it through all these amazing, talented bands… even the bands with the blast beat, cookie monster, just white noise. It’s taken it to the extreme, it’s taken it to a whole new realm and it’s just really an exciting genre to be in right now. It’s just ever expanding and ever growing.
Now that I think about looking back on the whole genre, there’s also melodic death metal, there’s so many different branches all thanks to death metal.
Music is very tasteful, it would like Seven Churches, Beyond the Gates didn’t sound that way. We purposely thought naively that Possessed would be the only death metal band back then and luckily, thank God, thank Satan that didn’t happen. But we tried to make every album, the two albums and the EP completely different so that we didn’t get pigeonholed or buttonholed into there’s four sets of things you have to follow to be death metal. We’re a victim of our own success in a way even though we weren’t successful. We were very, very underground and still are. 99.999% of the world has no idea who the fuck Possessed is and we’re hoping to change that. We’re hoping to show that… I’m hoping to show that I’m much more than a one trick pony and that I have a lot more to say.
I see you guys do have a few shows coming up in Europe, I believe. Do you have any other plans in support of the new album this year?
We do. We have several tours that are pending, that we’re negotiating right now for around fall. I don’t want to clear the deals but we’ve been offered everything from stadium tours to club circuits to smaller, medium venues. But I want to stick to the US for awhile. I don’t want to neglect my home base. It’s a bit tougher in the United States. It’s not all festivals and glamour, it’s more like roughing it out and I think that’s where Possessed does well is in the trenches. We see our fan base in the smaller clubs and venues and we really dig it, hashing it out, the blood, sweat, and grunge of this… Not grunge, but blood, sweat, and tears in the trenches because you can really tell how a smaller audience reacts and you can see the looks on their faces whether they like it or disapprove. We’re looking at all those things and trying to fine tune our craft.
Have you noticed any reactions as of recently?
Yeah, I’m noticing a lot of new people coming to see us as well as the hardcore OG fans. It was surprising. We were out there in Oakland, our hometown, and the SF area is notoriously rough. You don’t get anything for free. At one point, I was like, “How many people have seen Possessed before? How many OG fans are out there?” About a quarter of the hands went up and then said, “How many people were seeing Possessed for the very first time?” And three quarters of the crowd came up in my own hometown. I was like, “Whoa, fuck.” We’re not only keeping our old fans, but we’re keeping our new fans. Stuff like “Crimson Spike”, when we wrote that, we thought it was a really good song, but we didn’t get the reaction we expected. We tried the whole song and I cannibalized the lyrics and turned it into “Grave”, so…
Is there anything else you want to say or add?
I’m just grateful to be here and I’m thankful for the reaction and support so far. I don’t like to call them fans because essentially, we’re entertainers, they’re the entertained and they are the ones that build us. They’re the people that we play to and I’m just really pleasantly surprised. I’m thankful that they waited around so long and that they’re so loyal and that we’re getting new fans and keeping the old hopefully and I’m able to keep projecting what I want to. I want to finish my story, you know?
I’m sure there’s more to the story. Do you have any plans for writing a follow up?
Yeah, we have a three album contract with several bonus things in there and we just shot the “Graven” video with my good buddy, famous actor Peter Stormare. I’m doing a full length documentary on my life story and Possessed with Peter Stormare again. We have our multi-part documentary series on Nuclear Blast. I’m just trying to make up for lost time and I’m just starting out. Literally, I’m just starting out again. I feel like it’s day one and there’s a lot more… We’re already writing for the second album. I hope it’s going to be better than this one.
You have a full length documentary in addition to what you’re doing with the label?
Yeah. I met up with Peter Stormare up in the studio and he pitched me a deal. First of all, Peter Stormare has been my favorite actor for years and years after he did The Constantine. He played Lucifer in there. Me and my kids were like, “Ahh, Lucifer” right? Obviously my kids have been watching horror movies. When I told my kids, “Hey man, I met Lucifer”, they thought that was cool and I thought that was cool. But anyway, we just happened to meet up with Peter Stormare and he knew my entire life story. He’s like, “You’re like a fucking phoenix rising from the ashes.” I was like, “Are you pitching me a deal?” And he’s like, “Yeah, no fucking around. 50/50”, he put his hand out, I shook it of course and the next day, he filmed the last two songs in the studio and then started following me around Hollywood with a film camera do five and a half hour interviews and filming shows, sending clips, and working out the specifics, the legals and everything like that. We’re about three quarters done. We’re done with the principle and we’re just going to get a few more hours of footage so that we can hopefully mix together an abstract and kind of cool, different type of documentary on Possessed and get the third story.
I am looking forward to see how it turns out. Your story alone is heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time.
Yeah, thank you. I appreciate that, man. I mean it’s not too heartbreaking. I’ve been pretty blessed. Of course, there’s a lot of stuff bringing in the tragedy but I’ve been pretty blessed and I have a good support system around me and a great family and great friends, I have a great label and you guys are being really kind to me. Yeah, I just did a single with… You know the band Cadaver? You know Andrew Zodon from Satyricon and Celtic Frost and Ministry?
He started Norwegian death metal and Dirk Verbeuren from Megadeth, the drummer, they asked me to do back ups on their new single for Cadaver called “Circle of Morbidity”. That’s on YouTube now. Which is kind of cool. We shot the whole video for 250 bucks. It’s really old school, really just meat and potatoes, low tech. I shot my video on my iPad and I sent my backups into Andrew’s cell phone in the driveway after a photo shoot.
I hope that you guys will be coming out to New York one day. It’d be great to see you guys perform.
Yeah, should be out in New York. Probably around fall.